Carl R. Darnall Army Medical Center - Health Library

Diagnosis of Low Back Pain and Sciatica

Your doctor will ask about your symptoms and medical history. A physical exam will be done. Your back, hips, and legs will be tested for strength, flexibility, sensation, and reflexes. The diagnosis may be determined by the the results of the physical exam.

Blood and Urine Tests

Blood tests can be used to look for diseases, infections, or inflammation if they are suspected as an underlying cause. Complete blood counts are used to see if blood cell counts are in a normal range. Sedimentation rates can detect inflammation and be used as a diagnostic tool.

Urine tests check for urinary infection or blood in the urine.

Imaging Tests

Imaging tests are not generally required for low back pain and sciatica. They be done under certain circumstances. Examples include:

  • Severe or progressively worsening symptoms
  • Evaluating any suspected underlying conditions
  • Before a procedure or surgery based on the results of tests

Some tests use contrast material to highlight structures so they are easier to see. Common tests include:

Other Tests

Other tests may include:

  • Nerve conduction study—tests the speed and strength of electrical activity in a nerve
  • Electromyography—tests the electrical activity of a muscle at rest and during a contraction
  • Biopsy—a tissue sample is taken and evaluated under a microscope
REFERENCES:

Acute low back pain. EBSCO DynaMed Plus website. Available at:http://www.dynamed.com/topics/dmp~AN~T114958/Acute-low-back-pain. Updated October 25, 2017. Accessed December 27, 2017.

Bogduk N. Degenerative joint disease of the spine. Radiol Clin North Am. 2012;15(4):613-628.

Chou R, Qaseem A, Owens DK, et al. Diagnostic imaging for low back pain: advice for high value health care from the American College of Physicians. Ann Intern Med. 2011;154(3):181-189.

Chronic low back pain. EBSCO DynaMed Plus website. Available at:http://www.dynamed.com/topics/dmp~AN~T116935/Chronic-low-back-pain. Updated June 30, 2017. Accessed December 27, 2017.

Low back pain. Ortho Info—American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons website. Available at: https://orthoinfo.aaos.org/en/diseases--conditions/low-back-pain. Updated December 2013. Accessed December 27, 2017.

Sciatica. Cleveland clinic website. Available at: https://my.clevelandclinic.org/health/diseases/12792-sciatica. Updated July 22, 2014. Accessed December 27, 2017.

Sciatica. EBSCO DynaMed Plus website. Available at:http://www.dynamed.com/topics/dmp~AN~T115166/Sciatica. Updated May 8, 2017. Accessed December 27, 2017.

Last reviewed December 2017 by EBSCO Medical Review Board Michael Woods, MD, FAAP  Last Updated: 12/27/2017